Friday, February 17, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Don’t let festival die

News that the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce was dropping its support of the Wing Ding festival came as a shock this week. It was supposedly cancelled because of low attendance and budget concerns.

Wing Ding was the city’s premier festival and drew visitors and participants from all over the state. Last year’s attendance was estimated to have topped 30,000. The total was similarly impressive in 2010.

Every October since 1999, the community did what communities do best: It gathered for funnel cakes and cotton candy and saw some top musicians and entertainers. The chicken-wing competition drew some of the best cooks from as far away as Memphis.

Chamber officials said that despite more than 200 hours of planning, last year’s event had a $12,000 loss. Organizers had turned Wing Ding into a significant attraction for central Arkansas, but bringing professional entertainers here — musicians and competitive eaters — added thousands of dollars to Wing Ding’s budget and may have doomed the festival.

But there’s already talk of reviving the annual event. Organizers will redirect their efforts to helping develop new fairgrounds near Rixie Road off I-440. Though an admirable pursuit, it will take several years to accomplish — much too long for Jacksonville to be without a festival.

The city is talking with Murphy Brothers Expositions to stage a regional fair, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Mayor Gary Fletcher hopes that Murphy Brothers can operate a successful fair site if the Arkansas Livestock Association, which manages the state fair, decides it will not leave Little Rock.

We suggest Murphy Brothers step in for the chamber and organize Wing Ding this fall. That would give the community a look at the carnival operator’s potential before Jacksonville commits to building a multimillion-dollar fairgrounds.

In the meantime, the chamber should consider expanding the upcoming business expo in May to include more local entertainment and continuing the chicken wing contest at the farmers market next to the community center where the expo is held.

Cities all around here have successful festivals. You shut one down, and a piece of the community goes with it.

TOP STORY >> Wellness center to roast local legislator

Leader staff writer

It’ll be an evening full of laughs as state Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) will be in the hot seat at 7 p.m. Thursday during the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center’s 17th annual roast and toast.

Perry will be roasted by his younger brother, Scott Perry, of Choctaw; their father, Jurdon “Bud” Perry of Sherwood and friend Bob Johnson. Phillip Carlisle will be the master of ceremonies.

Tickets are $35 per person or $280 for a table of eight. They can be purchased at the senior center or by calling 501-982-7531. The roast and toast is the major fundraiser for the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center.

Last year’s roast and toast raised $10,000.

The center provides seniors with a wide range of exercise and mental health programs to help older adults continue to be active. The center serves hot lunches during the week and provides transportation for seniors.

Perry and his wife, Valerie, have been married for 20 years. They have three children, Logan, 19, Blake, 15, and 12-year-old Emilee. Perry, a Modern Woodmen financial representative, has been in the insurance business for 25 years.

Perry is in his second term as a state representative.

He has been a community leader in Jacksonville for many years, serving on the planning commission and as a former president of the chamber of commerce. He is a member of the Jacksonville Rotary Club, the Sertoma Club and the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council.

Perry has long been involved with youth sports. He coached the Sertoma football team and Jacksonville Youth league baseball and softball teams. He and Phillip Carlisle also coach trapshooting for Jacksonville youth.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun time with a few jabs,” Perry said of the roast.

His father said, “I will start out from the night he was born to the present. I have a few nice things to say.”

“He was rambunctious and had a lot of energy. He was very active and was a good athlete.”

“Mark hasn’t changed a lot. He was always a real good kid, at least that I know of. He was kind of a daredevil, I’ve got a good one on that,” his father said.

Scott Perry said, “I’m very excited about the roast. He’s my big brother, and he turned 50. I looked up to him. He taught me how to play basketball and to water ski, even barefootin’. I’ve got a lot of good stories.”

Scott Perry said he, Mark and their dad often went to the Southwest Conference basketball tournament at Reunion Arena in Dallas. They have some really good memories of those days.

“I’m excited to hear what friends and family have to say. Mark is a real jokester. He is a funny guy and likes to have a good time,” Valerie Perry said.

TOP STORY >> Information is released by mistake

Leader staff writer

A police report released by e-mail on Friday inadvertently revealed the name of an alleged victim of sexual assault.

Sgt. Keith Graham, a spokesman for the Cabot Police Department, said the program his department uses to write reports has a function that masks the names of juveniles so they are not visible. He was unaware that the problem existed and has reported it to his boss.

The boy’s name was covered over in white in the PDF file of the incident report that was sent to the news media. But the name reappeared when the file was copied and pasted by this reporter into a Word document file.

The arrest of Stacy Stracener, a science teacher at Cabot Junior High North, for allegedly having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old boy was widely reported earlier this week.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham told reporters the investigation indicated that Stracener had intercourse with the boy at least 11 times. Except for his age, the prosecutor released no information about the boy.

On Thursday, police released the incident report about the arrest to a Little Rock TV station. That report contained the name of the boy’s mother and said Stracener was a friend of the boy’s family.

The report said the boy had been Stracener’s student when he was in the seventh grade and that the two families shared an interest in BMX racing.

The TV station reported the shared interest, but not the mother’s name.

Contacted Friday morning, Sgt. Graham said he would not release the report again without approval from the prosecutor, who was concerned about information in the report that could identify the boy.

Prosecutor Graham said afterward that he understood the public is entitled to access to the initial report under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. He intended to look into the matter to see if further safeguards were possible to prevent victims from being identified.

Shortly afterward, Sgt. Graham sent the report to local media on the department’s e-mail list.

Since the prosecutor was concerned about revealing information that could identify an alleged victim of sexual assault, The Leader contacted him about the boy’s name appearing when the incident report was reformatted.

He said he would talk to the police about the problem.

The report said the alleged assault came to light after the boy’s mother found on her phone bill numerous texts between her son and Stracener.

The boy was interviewed at the Wade Knox Child Advocacy Center in Lonoke, the report said.

TOP STORY >> PCSSD, unions feared heading for showdown on work rules

Leader senior staff writer

When the Pulaski County Special School District and the two unions representing its employees begin renegotiating union contracts, the unions want to limit talks to salary and benefits.

The administration, however, wants to consider changes to generous, sometimes lucrative work rules the unions have won over the years. The the goal is to extricate PCSSD from fiscal distress and the projected $13.6 million deficit it faces for the 2012-2013 school year,

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess says by law, changes may be made to parts of the contract without voiding the entire agreement. He wants to cut two days pay a year and revisit rules that he believes overpay teachers for lunch, playground and bus-loading duty and a leave policy far more generous than the state requires.

Both sides have agreed to begin negotiations at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff have asked the district to provide extensive information regarding personnel, compensation, staffing at individual schools and end-of-year legal fund balances, to name a few. The letter requesting the data had 35 separate requests.

PCSSD—in fiscal distress since May for mismanagement, fraud, lack of financial oversight and transparency and improper payments to some board members—received a second fiscal distress designation Monday by the state Board of Education for declining legal fund balance—essentially ever-decreasing carryover.

Had the district not been the beneficiary of about $15 million in a one-time property-tax payment, the district would have finished this year roughly $4 million in the red.

The first fiscal-distress designation resulted in the state taking over the district, dissolving the school board, firing the superintendent. Tom Kimbrell, head of the state Education Department, became a de facto one-man board.

Guess and Chief Financial Officer Bill Goff have identified about $6.7 million in potential savings, mostly by cutting 77 jobs and by reducing by half the district’s contribution to employee health care. Currently, the district pays the entire $271 monthly premium, which is more than twice the $131 the state requires.


In virtually identical letters sent to PACT president Marty Nix and PASS president Emry Chesterfield, Guess wrote: “The administration proposes modification of the entire agreement in order to comply with the Arkansas Department of Education fiscal distress removal mandate.

“That mandate is that the district negotiate with (PACT and PASS) changes in the …compensation package set forth in the (PACT and PASS) agreement that will result in substantial economic savings,” Guess wrote in response to letters from Nix and from Chesterfield.

But Guess interprets a more far-ranging mandate, writing: “The district is also directed by ADE to negotiate changes in employee work rules now established by that agreement which modifications will accomplish substantial increases in operational efficiency and flexibility. We will be prepared with a more contract-language, specific proposal at the beginning of negotiation.”


Guess, who has threatened to implement changes unilaterally if the unions don’t cooperate—without citing authority to do so—warns Nix and Chesterfield:

“These negotiations are going to be regressive. Contract negotiations can be relatively pleasant when the subject is how to divide excess money between parties. On the other hand, it’s never fun to negotiate how much each party must pay to cover unanticipated losses. I promise that I’ll approach these negotiations with an open mind and positive attitude about success.”

He has suggested reducing the length of the teacher and support-staff contracts from 192 days a year to the state minimum 190 days a year, a move that could save about $800,000 next school year.

The unions say they want to know what the saving would be if all employees, including year-round employees like the superintendent, worked 192 days.

“Dr. Guess inherited a lot of financial and other problems,” Nix said Friday.

But she says the burden of balancing the budget should fall not only on the teachers and support staff, but also on central office and other administrators.


“Everyone but the students should be affected,” Nix said. “We are in this together.”

Nix said she hoped likely cuts to salary and benefits could be confined to the 2012-2013 school year.

Judging by the information sought by the unions, they may challenge the amount of legal fund carryover PCSSD needs to accrue by the end of next school year. They have asked for information regarding those balances. A lower legal fund balance would result in fewer cuts.

The unions and the PCSSD administration have a long, often acrimonious history, with school board members sometimes out to boost the fortunes of the employees through the unions that represent them and other times trying to decertify the unions as employee bargaining agents.

The two unions may be the most powerful in Arkansas education, along with the Arkansas Education Association, and in recent years had taken to recruiting and supporting candidates for the school board.


The unions asked the district for information in 35 areas before the beginning of negotiations, the first of which was the amount of savings  to the district if every employee worked a 192 day contract year.

Guess and Goff insist the district could save $800,000 by cutting the teacher’s contract year to 190.

PACT and PASS want a list of all contract employees who have resigned, retired or been terminated during the fiscal year—including name, position, salary and work location.

They also wants a list of attorneys who, for the current year, received compensation from PCSSD, by name, amount and fund from which each is paid.

They requested a printout that shows the name, position, salary and location of every employee working in the district, projected staffing allocations for the approaching school year.


The unions also requested budget information sheets identifying and describing current year expenditures, as well as revenue summaries for various revenues.

They request identification of the 77 positions to be eliminated as part of cost reduction strategies.

They want seniority lists for teachers, administrators and support staff, an organizational chart for central office, including salary and fringe benefits for each central office employee; a list of bus drivers who receive supplement pay for special runs, field trips and more.

Also a list of employees assigned to each school by name and assignment; a list of administrators’ salary schedule, supplement salary and a copy of the superintendent’s contract as well as a copy of the contract for each member of the superintendent’s cabinet.

Also, the cost of salary and step increases for each employee group, student enrollment per school, per class enrollment for each school and also a list of everyone who has been hired as a consultant, adviser, negotiator, temporary hearing panelist since the state takeover the amount paid.

“Thank you in advance for your assistance and we look forward to working collaboratively with you and the district’s negations team to reach an agreement that maintains and protects the well-being of our teaching and support personnel while continuing to achieve the highest possible standards for PCSSD students,” Nix and Chesterfield wrote.

SPORTS >> Beebe girls rout Forrest City

Leader sportswriter

Inside domination went a long way for Beebe as the Lady Badgers routed visiting Forrest City 77-58 at Badger Sports Arena on Tuesday.

The Lady Mustangs (4-7) had their chances to keep pace early but could not find their touch as Beebe (19-5, 9-2) took advantage with a transition game that kept momentum in its favor for the duration.

Dominique Dillard led the Lady Mustangs with 12 points while Mary Burks added nine points, all from three-point baskets. Kenya Thompson and Marina Ford each finished with six points for Forrest City while Deja Collin had five points. Thompson also led on the boards with five rebounds.

For Beebe, guard Jamie Jackson led the way with 24 points, seven rebounds and four steals while 6-4 sophomore post player Angelina Williams finished with 22 points and eight rebounds despite sitting on the bench during the first quarter for missing Monday practice due to another school event. Sophomore guard Kalela Miller also sat out the first eight minutes for Beebe before finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.

“The bottom line is that if you’re 5 of 21 and you take over 80 percent of your shots in the lane, that’s all the difference in the game,” Lady Mustangs coach Jackie England said. “If we score there, it’s a whole different game. Once you dig that hole, we can’t stop the big girl, you know, they just opened up something else. We’ve just got to learn how to play and get the ball in the hole. That’s our problem right now; we have to learn how to score.”

Ford scored two early baskets for the Lady Mustangs that kept them close in the opening minutes with a hook shot at the 6:18 mark that made it 4-2 and a quick jumper off an inbound pass with 5:36 left to go in the first that cut Beebe’s lead to 6-4.

Thompson was the first to hit from long distance as she made a three-point basket at the 2:44 mark to pull the Lady Mustangs to within 9-7. Collin made the back end of a two-shot foul and scored inside following a failed Beebe possession to make it 11-10 Beebe with 1:46 remaining.

Williams’ entry into the game to start the second quarter changed things dramatically as she scored two quick baskets to put the Lady Badgers up 20-10.

Miller then scored on consecutive trips down the floor, once with a floater followed by a lay up at the 5:42 mark to give Beebe a 26-13 lead.

The Lady Mustangs had their moments from the outside in the second quarter, including a three pointer by Ardrayon McCoy at the 4:26 mark and another trey for Burks with 2:19 left to go in the first half to make it 35-21.

Thompson tried to match Williams’ physicality inside, but Williams banged off her adversary and still made a midrange jumper before Beebe teammate Sarah White scored off the glass to give Beebe a 39-21 lead. Burks struck again beyond the arc, but Williams found the hoop inside two more times before the half.

Kionna Patillo got the last word for the Lady Mustangs with a three-point basket that set the halftime margin at 43-27.

“We played pretty well offensively, just didn’t play well on defensive end,” Lady Badgers coach Greg Richey said. “I thought the key is that we can play fast or slow – it’s just whatever the game dictates, and it is good that my players can adapt to whatever style the other team wants to play.”

The Lady Badgers played at Nettleton last night after Leader deadlines and will travel to Wynne on Tuesday before wrapping up 5A-East Conference play at home against league-leading Paragould on Thursday.

Beebe trails Paragould by two games in the league standings.

SPORTS >> ’Cats play rough, still can’t slow Bears down

Leader sports editor

If a win can be easy and difficult at the same time, Sylvan Hills got one that way on Tuesday against Watson Chapel. Playing at home for the first time in almost a month, the Bears (18-5, 10-0) beat the Wildcats 67-37 to improve to 11-0 in conference play and stay alone in first place in the 5A Southeast.

The win was easy because it wasn’t difficult for the Bears to pull away once they got the pace to their liking and began crashing the boards. It was difficult in the sense that Watson Chapel entered game intent on making it rough, especially on senior guard Archie Goodwin.

Chapel did not intend to allow Goodwin to get to the rim, and was willing to get rough and take flagrant foul calls to stop it from happening. The strategy worked only in the fact that Goodwin scored just three, two-point baskets the entire game. It didn’t work in the sense that they still lost by 30 points and Goodwin still finished with 25 points.

“They were physical and it was pretty clear they came in here with that mindset to be that way,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “I thought we handled that pretty well. I thought our defensive intensity was right where it needed to be. I thought we played very aggressive, smart defense and that was the difference in the game.”

Sylvan Hills also dominated on the glass. After a slow start in which Watson Chapel got the first five rebounds of the game, the Bears finished with a whopping 53-22 advantage in rebounds.

To get that many rebounds requires a lot of missed shots, and neither team shot the ball very well. The Bears went 21 of 69 for 30 percent. Chapel was worse, hitting 13 of 54 for 24 percent.

Davis didn’t mind the poor shooting.

“You have to remember this is our first time playing here in eight games,” Davis said. “And as long as we’re getting that kind of effort on defense and rebounding, we’ll be ok until the shooting comes around. This is a pretty good shooting team so that’s going to come.”

Junior Daylon Jones came off the bench to finish with 12 points. Senior Larry Ziegler and sophomore David Johnson had nine points and seven rebounds each.

“I thought David came off the bench and gave us a big lift,” Davis said. “He got some offensive rebounds and putbacks that really got us going there in the second quarter.”

Senior Devin Pearson led all players with 13 rebounds to go with his six points. Goodwin almost had a double-double with nine rebounds.

The game was close after the first quarter with Sylvan Hills leading 14-7, but the Bears took control in the second. That’s when Jones and Johnson entered the game and combined for 12 of the Bears’ 22 second-quarter points. By halftime, the lead was up to 36-17 and was never less than 21 after the first bucket of the third quarter.

The only lull for Sylvan Hills came late in the third quarter when the game briefly fell into a free-for-all. The Bears built the lead to 54-26 with about two minutes left in the third, but the Wildcats scored the last seven points of the quarter when the Bears suddenly couldn’t hang onto the ball. After committing just six turnovers in the whole first half, Sylvan Hills gave it away nine times in the third.

They rectified the problem by going on a run to start the fourth quarter and invoking the sportsmanship rule with about three minutes remaining.

Javoine Bailey led Watson Chapel with 15 points.

The Lady Bears were on the wrong side of their lop-sided final score. Watson Chapel beat won the girls game 61-27. The game shouldn’t have been so one-sided based on effort and execution, but the Lady Bears couldn’t make a shot. Sylvan Hills shooting percentage looked more like it was shooting at carnival rims than regulation rims. The Lady Bears were 10 of 53 from the floor and six of 14 at the free-throw line.

There was also a strange event in the third quarter that severely harmed the Lady Bears already slim chances of winning the game. Behind but still within respectable striking distance at 34-18 early in the third quarter, Sylvan Hills was hit with back-to-back technical fouls while getting back on defense. The technical fouls were never explained, but after the four free throws and bucket on the ensuing possession, the score was suddenly 40-18 and things snowballed from there.

Chapel’s Chapel Jones led all players with 17 points and seven rebounds. Naomi Gregory led Sylvan Hills with 10 points.

SPORTS >> Cabot gets a big road victory at LR Central

Leader sports writer

Cabot kept its state-tournament dreams alive on Tuesday with a critical 61-48 victory over Little Rock Central on the road as the Panthers wind down their 7A Central Conference schedule.

The Panthers (13-7, 4-7) trailed most of the first half before turning things around in the third quarter. Senior Sam Howe led the Panthers with 17 points while Arthur West added 12 points and post player Josiah Wymer finished with 11 points for Cabot. Clayton Vaught rounded out high scorers with eight points.

Central led 17-11 at the end of the first quarter and held on to the lead at halftime 29-28. But Cabot overtook its host in the third quarter and led 44-37 heading into the final eight minutes.

“Maybe we can get a little bit of our spark back. We started out a little sluggish but we picked it up as the game went on.”

The postseason scenario appeared to favor Cabot heading into Friday night’s games with West Memphis ahead of the Panthers for the sixth and final tournament seed by one game. But Cabot’s three remaining games are against Bryant, Van Buren and Russellville, teams which are beatable by the Panthers’ standards, while the Blue Devils still have to face powerhouses Jacksonville and Little Rock Parkview, as well as Mountain Home in the three games left on its 7A/6A East Conference schedule.

Bridges said Thursday he believed winning two games gave the Panthers a good shot at qualifying for state while winning out would almost guarantee a slot in the postseason..

Cabot shot 1 of 5 from the free-throw line in the first half, but it turned things around in the second half by going 14 of 18 in the second half.

“Shooting is not our strength,” Bridges said. “But we do a good job of executing our offense with our high/low game and getting good shots. We played well in the second half, and we made our free throws, okay.”

Howe was a big part of that effort in the fourth quarter as he scored eight of his game-high 17 points in the final eight minutes. The Panthers went 8 of 10 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.

With home games against Bryant and Russellville and a road game with struggling Van Buren in between, Bridges said he hopes the favorable remaining schedule will help his team reach the postseason for a fifth consecutive year. This year’s 7A state tournament will be held at the new Panther Arena.

“We’ve played well at home for the most part,” Bridges said. “Maybe not against Catholic and North Little Rock, but for the most part, we’ve played pretty well here. One thing’s for sure – we’d rather play here than have to play at their place.”

There was no letdown for the Cabot Lady Panthers after their huge 59-43 victory over North Little Rock last week as they handled Little Rock Central 72-59 on Tuesday. Senior post player Laci Boyett led Cabot with 17 points while U of A signee Melissa Wolff added 15 points. Senior forward Sydney Wacker’s late-season surge continued as she poured in 12 points for the Lady Panthers while junior guard Elliot Taylor finished with 11 points. Point guard Jaylin Bridges had eight points and a strong defensive effort against Central’s speedy guards.

Central’s Taylor Lewis proved to be the hardest Lady Tiger for Cabot to defend as she finished with 27 points while teammate Jamie Ruffin had 17 points.

Cabot assistant coach Charles Ruple said the team continues to play well as a whole, and has been particularly impressed with Wacker over the past few weeks. The Lady Panthers now lead the 7A Central Conference at 21-5 overall and 10-1 in league play.

“She really has stepped it up,” Ruple said of Wacker. “Everyone has played well – it seems like whatever we need to do in a game, that’s what happens.”

Cabot hosted Bryant last night and will travel to Van Buren on Tuesday.A

SPORTS >> Badgers bust Mustang zero

Leader sports writer

Forrest City’s quest to finish its 5A East Conference run unbeaten hit a snag on Tuesday as Beebe out-dueled the league-leading Mustangs in a 64-49 upset at Badger Sports Arena.

The Mustangs (15-8, 10-1) got off to a slow start and could never catch up as the Badgers (17-6, 8-3) played keep away from their visitors for most of the fourth quarter after building a 45-36 lead through three periods.

Shot selection also played a big hand, as Beebe went 20 of 40 from the floor for an even 50 percent while Forrest City was 17 of 50 for 34 percent.

“To knock off the number one team I think, was kind of a statement to everybody coming in that we can play with the best,” Beebe coach Ryan Marshall said. “It was good to see us finish one off like a good basketball club. Going 23 of 28 from the free-throw line, taking care of the ball for the most part, it was a war inside.”

Senior forward Jordan Chatter led the Mustangs with 14 points, but found himself bogged down much of the night with heavy pressure from Beebe’s defense. Senior guard Martin Clanton added 12 points for Forrest City while post player Trey Thompson finished with 10 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

For Beebe, Dayton Scott led with 18 points and eight rebounds, and proved to be the toughest Badger for the visitors to defend inside. Senior Zach May added 13 points for the Badgers while reserve post Zach Baker added 10 points.

“I just think the deal was they executed so well,” Forrest City coach Dwight Lofton said. “Whatever we threw at them, they had a game plan for it. We had an opportunity at the start of the second half, and we just had some possessions that I wish we could have back. You know, you grow and you learn, and you move on.”

The Mustangs started the second half with a press defense that slowed Beebe down, but they could not find their touch on the offensive end. It took a pair of put backs from Thompson to cut a 34-23 halftime deficit down to 34-27 by the 6:32 mark of the third quarter.

Brandon Fuller got the Badgers going with a lay-up off a defensive rebound and cross-court trip to make it 36-27 with 4:09 remaining in the third, and a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Tanner Chapman gave the Badgers a 38-28 lead with 3:31 left to play in the third.

Chapman hurt the Mustangs in the fourth quarter with a strong performance at the free-throw line as he went 7 of 8 from the line in during the final eight minutes.

As a team, Beebe went 23 of 28 from the stripe for their best percentage all season.

The Badgers’ 50 percent effort from the floor was aided by the fact that they took only four shots in the fourth quarter and made three of them, instead relying on the ball-handling skills of Fuller and Chapman to take time off the clock.

“We just thought we were in a tough situation,” Forrest City coach Dwight Lofton said. “We couldn’t step up and make free throws, and every bounce went their way. They played extremely well. They’ve had this one circled ever since the last time we played them.”

The Badgers started the game on a 15-2 run that included a pair of dunks by Scott as part of his nine first-quarter points. Chatter got some of that back for the Mustangs with a 15-footer that made it 15-7 with 1:55 remaining in the first, and a hook shot just before the buzzer to close the gap to 17-9.

“We talked about that,” Marshall said. “I’ve seen them play about six or seven times, and when they’re up, Forrest City is about as good as there is. But when they have to play from behind, they kind of get out of what they want to do. I thought that was huge, particularly in the second half. I thought that if we could keep that going into the fourth, I felt pretty good about things.”

Beebe’s lead went as high as 26-13 in the second quarter, but a three pointer by Joe Tripp at the 1:28 mark and another buzzer beater, this time by Meishio Harris, set the halftime margin at 34-23.

The loss was the first blemish on Forrest City’s East record, but with three games remaining and the Mustangs still holding a two-game lead over Beebe, Friday night’s home game against Blytheville could be the clincher.

“We still have a two-game lead,” Lofton said. “We have an opportunity on Friday to go ahead and clinch, but we really wanted to come in here and win it on the road. We just have to move on. It’s a long season, we’re 10-1, and a lot of people would love to trade with us right now.”

Beebe played at Nettleton last night and will play at Wynne on Tuesday before wrapping up their East schedule at home for senior night against Paragould on Thursday.

SPORTS >> Red Devils sweep ’Canes

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville made a long conference road trip on Friday and came back with two big but juxtaposed wins over Jonesboro. The Red Devils mercy ruled Jonesboro earlier this season while the Lady Devils needed a last-second shot for the home win. On Friday, the boys held off a strong comeback attempt to slip away with a 70-65 win, while the Lady Devils overcame a slow start to cruise, 56-39.

“We covered their outside shooters better than we did the first game,” Jacksonville girls coach Katrina Mimms said. “We didn’t give up any open threes. They hit four total and they were spread out one in each quarter. I think in the first game they hit 10.”

The Lady Hurricane (9-16, 2-9) led 13-12 at the end of the first quarter, but Mimms recognized the problem and corrected it.

“We didn’t attack the hole,” Mimms said. “We came out flat. We weren’t moving on offense. We weren’t rotating or getting any dribble drives. We were just passing it around and the first open shot we were jacking it. Later in the game we got some easier shots. It’s just a matter of being patient.”

Jacksonville (17-5, 7-4) took a 24-21 lead into halftime, then picked up the defensive intensity to pull away in the second half.

“We were able to get some steals and force some turnovers in the second half,” Mimms said. “That created some easy baskets for us.”

Junior guard Jessica Jackson led the Lady Red Devils with 20 points while freshman guard Shakayla Hill added 15.

The Jacksonville boys (19-4, 9-2) were on the verge of breaking away for another easy win. The Red Devils held a 13-point lead in the second quarter, but Jonesboro rallied to cut the margin to six by halftime. The home team rally continued in the third quarter and the Hurricane briefly took a 49-47 lead late in the third quarter.

Jonesboro (19-5, 7-4) went from man defense to a 2-1-2 full court trapping press to ignite the rally, but a Jacksonville adjustment made the Hurricane lead short-lived.

“They went to the trap, so we inserted Dustin House (three-point specialist) in behind the pressure and he came up big for us, kind of bailed us out,” Joyner said.

“Once Jacksonville beat the press, the ball found its way to House around the perimeter. House scored nine consecutive points off three successive three pointers. Guards Dwayne Waller and Aaron Smith also hit three pointers during the run that put the Red Devils back in control.

Once Jonesboro came out of the press, Jacksonville went back to its inside game, where Jonesboro had no defense.

“They had no answer for T,” (senior post Tirrell Brown) Joyner said.

Brown led the Red Devils with 17 points. Waller added 12 and House finished with 11.

Jacksonville played at Marion on Friday and returns home on Tuesday to face West Memphis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

TOP STORY >> Commander likes new role

Col. Brian (Smokey) Robinson, the new commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, was asked by the base newspaper about his most memorable experience in the Air Force.

“The jury is still out on that,” Robinson last week told the Combat Airlifter, the official newspaper of Little Rock Air Force Base. “I can’t pinpoint one single best experience, but there have been a few highlights. I enjoyed being an instructor pilot, and being a part of planning for the surge in Iraq in March of 2003 was a huge highlight.”

His wing had the daunting task of figuring out how to insert an entire aviation brigade—the 173rd of Italy—into Iraq with huge C-17 airplanes, a feat that’s been compared to some of the great landing successes of the Second World War.

It had never been done before with the C-17 airplanes, said his boss, Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay, commander of the 18th Air Force, at the change-of-command ceremony last month, when Robinson took over the 19th Airlift Wing from Col. Mike Minihan.

“The mission was a textbook success,” Ramsay said. “He was awarded the Bronze Star, pinned on by Vice President Dick Cheney.”

“Smokey epitomizes combat airlift,” said Ramsay.

Robinson “has literally written the book on combat tactics and deployment of the C-17,” Ramsay said. “He is the first weapons instructor course graduate in the history of C-17 to command a squadron.”

Robinson started on C-130s and transitioned to the C-17s. “What Mini is to C-130s, Smokey is to C-17s. They epitomize combat airlift,” the general said.

“I’m happy to be here, happy to serve and look forward to helping people as much as I can here. I hope everyone finds me as approachable as previous commanders,” Robinson told the Combat Airlifter.

Last Thursday, the new commander took Michelle Obama on a tour of the Hercules Dining Facility, which is part of a pilot program to serve more nutritious foods to airmen here and eventually at all 1,000 dining facilities in the military.

Robinson comes from Scott AFB in Illinois, where he was executive officer to Gen. Raymond Johns Jr., commander of Air Mobility Command there.

Robinson was previously assigned to the Pentagon and was vice commander at the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston, S.C., air base.

Robinson graduated from Philadelphia University in 1987 with a bachelor’s of science degree in computer science and received his commission from Air Force Officer Training School in December 1987 at Lackland AFB, Texas.

His career as a pilot began in 1989 after earning his Air Force pilot wings at Vance AFB, Okla., followed by a position as a T-38B instructor pilot.

The colonel majored in computer science. His favorite subjects included software engineering, world history, economics and physics.

When asked about his favorite books, Robinson listed several, including “We Were Soldiers” by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. The book is about the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides who fought it.

“The leadership displayed in such a tough situation, such an interesting time in American history, during the Vietnam War, is really astounding. It was also a time where the military became more concerned with taking care of the families of service members,” Robinson said.

He also mentioned “The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall” by Ian Bremmer.

“The book is relevant today,” he said. “It’s about the process of stabilization from closed societies to open societies.”

Robinson said the lessons can be directly applied to our experiences in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.

He also cited “My American Journey: An Autobiography” by Colin Powell. “I think this is just a great story, to see a man’s humble beginnings and his rise to success,” Robinson told the Combat Airlifter. “General Powell had to work hard to get where he is and had to create some of his own opportunities.”

“I’ve always been interested in World War II,” Robinson continued. “However, the recent history of America, from the 1970s onward, is a very exciting era to live in and interests me a lot, too.”

Asked about how he envisions his role at Little Rock Air Force Base, Robinson said, “I don’t think I have any different vision than the previous commanders here. I see the base as a train heading down the track, and we’re just switching engineers right now. Of course, we’ll accomplish the mission with safety and continue to move towards being the premier base in Air Mobility Command, and we will deliver.”

As for his commitment to the men and women on base, Robinson said, “From me, they can expect honesty. I always try to give people the straight scoop, whether it’s good or bad news. Of course I want to ensure good order and discipline in accordance with the core values of the Air Force. Above all they can expect that I will do all I can to properly care for them and their families.”

He said his hobbies include running, soccer, reading about history, spending time with his family and travel.

Robinson said his wife, Maureen, is from Hawaii.

“We met on active duty in Oklahoma. She got out of the service after 10 years.” He said their two sons, Shawn and Justin, are “academically motivated and athletic, interested in a lot of outdoors stuff.

George Washington is the colonel’s favorite president. “I have been impressed with a lot of recent presidents,” he said in the interview, “but to look at how rough forming a democracy is, and has been, the courage and conviction he had to not only win the Revolutionary War, but continue serving the union after is amazing. The best part is, afterwards, he just went back to being Mr. Washington.”

EDITORIAL >> Can anyone save district?

The Pulaski County Special School District’s financial future is more precarious than ever. It’s been placed in financial distress again, despite the state Education Department’s takeover last June, when it fired the school board and the superintendent and promised honest bookkeeping.

The latest blow came on Monday, when the state Board of Education placed the district on life support once more as the district’s finances worsened.

PCSSD would have found itself in a $13.3 million hole this year but for a one-time infusion of $15 million in property taxes. The district will almost certainly extract huge concessions from its teachers and staff.

It will take a real effort to save a district from the brink. Hundreds of employees will lose their jobs. Desegregation funds will dry up, adding more woes to the district’s finances.

The only improvement we’ve seen in the district is the disbanding of a dysfunctional school board that has hindered progress for a generation.

It turns out the Education Department hasn’t had any more success cutting expenses than the previous administration. PCSSD must cut $13 million from next year’s budget or face almost certain extinction — perhaps absorbed into the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts. That outcome could eventually lead to an independent school district in Jacksonville, although it’s hard to see that happening with continued state supervision, protracted court battles and uncertainty about how such a new district would get its financing.

You have to root for the Pulaski County district’s survival even if you don’t have any kids in its schools. But can it survive while its tax base crumbles and parents move to neighboring districts? We’ve been asking that question for 25 years, and the answer still eludes some of the smartest minds in education.

The district still has a shot at success with the right leadership and outstanding principals like Henry Anderson, who wants to return Jacksonville High School to its glory days, when it was one of the best schools in the state and its graduates went to top schools all over the country.

Here’s hoping the district succeeds in its negotiations with its teachers and other employees and balances its books. We’re wishing interim Superintendent Jerry Guess and his hard-working staff success as they try to turn the struggling district around.

The alternative is prolonged state supervision, continued academic failure and possible consolidation. Patrons of the Pulaski County Special School District deserve better.

TOP STORY >> Teacher is facing charges in court

Leader staff writer

An eighth-grade science teacher at Cabot Junior High North has been arrested on 11 counts of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of second-degree sexual assault.

Stacy Stracener, 36, turned herself in to Cabot police Monday afternoon following an investigation that started Feb. 8 when school district officials called the police about allegations that Stracener had sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old male student. She is in her ninth year as a teacher in the Cabot School District.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham said Tuesday that the 11 counts of first-degree sexual assault correlate with 11 instances of either sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity. The two counts of second-degree sexual assault correlate with two instances of sexual contact.

Stracener spent Monday night in the Cabot jail and was taken to circuit court in Lonoke Tuesday morning where bond was set at $25,000. She was released from custody later that morning.

Dr. Tony Thurman, superintendent of Cabot Schools, said Stracener was suspended last week when the investigation started. The district will not release any other information, he said.

First-degree sexual assault is a Class-A felony that carries a sentence of 6 to 30 years for each count and a fine of up to $15,000. Second- degree sexual assault is a Class-B felony that carries a sentence of 5 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

Stracener is represented by John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, however Hall was not in court with her Tuesday. Instead, the court Judge appointed public defender Robbie Golden to represent Stracener for the bond hearing.

She has been told to be back in court at 9 a.m. Friday with her attorney.

The plea and arraignment has been set for 9 a.m. March 12.

Technically, Stracener won’t be charged with any crime until Graham files charges. However, he said Tuesday that teachers are held to a higher standard than some other people and referred to this state statute that explains why:

“Ark. Code Ann. §5-14-124. Sexual assault in the first degree (a) A person commits sexual assault in the first degree if the person engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity with another person who is less than eighteen (18) years of age and is not the actor’s spouse and the actor is:

“(1) Employed with the Department of Correction, the Department of Community Correction, the Department of Health and Human Services, or any city or county jail or a juvenile detention facility, and the victim is in the custody of the Department of Correction, the Department of Community Correction, the Department of Health and Human Services, any city or county jail or juvenile detention facility, or their contractors or agents; (2) A professional under § 12-12-507(b) and is in a position of trust or authority over the victim and uses the position of trust or authority to engage in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity; or (3) An employee in the victim’s school or school district, a temporary caretaker, or a person in a position of trust or authority over the victim. (b) It is no defense to a prosecution under this section that the victim consented to the conduct. (c) It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under subdivision (a)(3) of this section that the actor was not more than three (3) years older than the victim.

TOP STORY >> Must slash to survive, PCSSD says

Leader senior staff writer

It could be “fatal” if Pulaski County Special School District unions don’t agree to an additional $7 million in fringe-benefit concessions beginning in the 2012-13 school year, Superintendent Jerry Guess testified Monday in a fiscal-distress hearing before the state Board of Education.

Without such concessions, expenditures will exceed revenues by $13.3 million next year, he said, and the legal fund balance will be in the red. (See editorial, page 8A.)

The district originally was identified as being in fiscal distress last May based on a state Legislative Audit that found improper financial oversight, improper reimbursement of board members and outright theft of more than $400,000 by a former maintenance supervisor.

In June, state Educational Commissioner Tom Kimbrell dissolved PCSSD’s elected school board and fired first-year Superintendent Charles Hopson. Kimbrell became a one-man board and hired Guess as superintendent and Bill Goff as chief financial officer.

Fund Balance Declines

In August, with the 2010-11 books closed, the Education Department and PCSSD officials found the legal fund balance had declined by $5.5 million and as a result, the second finding of fiscal distress was issued Monday by the board.

The only reason the district will finish this school year with a $4.6 million legal fund balance is that it received a one-time, $15 million infusion of property-tax money.

Budget is mostly salary

Goff said that about 80 percent of the non-federal program budget pays salaries and benefits, so that’s where the district must go to cut and control costs.

Guess said the district was in such dire straits because of “lax administrative oversight” over a period of years.

“This is a very delicate balance between telling you the situation’s critical and at the same time, assuring parents that everything’s alright. We have high plans for 2012-13,” Guess told the state board.

Toward that end, and in response to a query from state Board of Education member Sam Ledbetter, Guess said the district could spend $8 million to $10 million from a dedicated building fund on roof, plumbing, electrical and parking lot repairs, as well as painting and carpeting in addressing some of the district’s considerable facilities needs.

Reassure Parents

“I want to reassure parents that we are making curriculum changes, we’re planning for a good academic year 2012-13,” Guess said. “We planning to use the money for the needs that we have and desperately need in facilities. We’re putting roofs on, we’re painting buildings, we’re repairing parking lots.”

Among the 11 schools singled out–based on compliance with desegregation agreement guidelines–seven local schools were identified for about $2.5 million worth of work, Goff said later.

Those schools are Harris Elementary, Jacksonville High School, Jacksonville Middle School, Sylvan Hills Elementary School, Tolleson Elementary School, Sylvan Hills High School and Northwood Elementary School. (See sidebar.)

Unilateral action

Guess threatened “unilateral action” should the unions prove unwilling to renegotiate, making the necessary cuts.”

He declined to explain what such options the state or district might have in the face of existing union contracts that run through 2015.

“Our goal will be first to convince the union(s) that the situation critical and it does exist. It will be fatal to the continued existence of the district if those conditions are not corrected,” the superintendent said.

“My second goal is to persuade the union and the employees it represents to agree to decrease that $16 million (fringe benefit total) by a figure of around $7 million. I do not want to approach these negotiations in an attitude of not succeeding or in a threatening posture.

“But what I will do if we do not succeed, suffice it to say I have a plan for unilateral implementation of the district’s last, best and final offer to the union during these negotiations,” Guess told the board.

Marty Nix, president of the powerful Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, didn’t return calls Tuesday.

Guess, Goff, financial consultant Don Stewart and Kimbrell—who dissolved the elected PCSSD school board on June 20 and became a one-man school board—identified potential cost savings by comparing employee benefits and board policies to the state-required minimums.

Eliminate 77 positions

In order to reduce the 2012-13 budget by $13.6 million, the district proposes to eliminate 77 positions, saving $3.8 million; a reduction in the amount the district pays toward employee health insurance, $1.5 million; leaving existing unfilled positions vacant, $775,000; changing bell schedule resulting transportation savings, $401,000; and a new copier contract, $141,000. That totals $6.6 million in identified cuts, but requires cutting another $6.9 million.

Finding that money is likely to affect some or all of the following, according to Goff: number of employees, salaries paid to employees and benefits.

For instance, the state requires 190 days of school each year, but employees of PCSSD work and are paid for 192 days, according to Goff’s presentation.

By cutting those two days, the district would save $795,438 in salaries and benefits.

Teachers are paid $642,000 more than required by state law for non-instructional duties such as bus duty, student supervision and lunch and recess duty, according to PCSSD officials, and $2.8 million related to professional growth classes taught by teachers at the school.

Also targeted

Also in the discussion are severance pay, bonuses for National Board certification, longevity pay, attendance incentive pay, supplemental and additional work pay ($900,000 last year alone,) and district contribution to employee health insurance at a rate twice that required by the state.

Potential health insurance savings is about $4.2 million a year.

The district also wants to review paid leave policies and supplemental salary for support staff—mostly bus drivers—who are represented by the Pulaski Association of Support Staff.

SPORTS >> Badgers get revenge against Tech

Leader sportswriter

There was no love lost between Beebe and Greene County Tech as the Badgers fought their way to a 50-47 victory over the Eagles at Badger Sports Arena on Friday.

The game was physical from the opening tip and only intensified as the capacity crowd gave the 5A-East Conference showdown a state-tournament feel. Technical fouls, a rowdy Beebe student section and even an ejected Tech cheerleader in the second half added to the rivalry atmosphere.

“The persona Tech puts up kind of makes for the rivalry,” Beebe coach Ryan Marshall said. “And the kids really get after each other. From the T-up on, it was as physical and competitive as it could be.”

Five points was the biggest margin enjoyed by either team in the back-and-forth affair that saw eight lead changes. The Eagles led the entire fourth quarter until Jake Schlenker’s three pointer with 1:03 left to play gave the Badgers a 44-42 lead. Andrew Hovus answered for Tech with a three-point shot to briefly swing the lead the other way, but Beebe senior forward Braden Jones got the lead back for the Badgers with a putback with 32 seconds left to play.

Senior post player Dayton Scott led the Badgers with 16 points, including perhaps the most important bucket of the night for Beebe with just over 10 seconds remaining to give the Badgers a 48-45 lead. Hovus made his way to the foul line for two free throws to cut it back to one, and the Eagles got a quick foul on Beebe’s Tanner Chapman with 5.8 seconds remaining.

Chapman’s free-throw shooting had been instrumental in aiding Beebe’s comeback midway through the fourth, and the underclassman came up big one more time for the Badgers by hitting both ends of his final trip to set the final margin.

“He missed two early on that technical foul, but he was 4 for 4 down the stretch,” Marshall said of Chapman’s performance at the line. “That’s something we have not been getting from some of them. He didn’t go up there like a sophomore; he stepped up there with maturity like a kid with confidence.”

Tech was trying to set up Ferguson for a last shot to take the lead in the closing seconds, but Schlenker blocked the shot. That resulted in a wild scramble for the ball. Jones came up with the loose ball for Beebe and quickly got it out to Scott, who put a big exclamation point on the game with a dunk that gave the Badgers a 48-45 lead with 12 seconds remaining and sent the home crowd into delirium.

The victory avenged an earlier East road loss for the Badgers, who now sit second in the league standings at 7-3 behind 10-0 Forrest City. Tech fell into a third-place tie with Nettleton at 6-4. Beebe is now 16-6 overall.

“We thought we were the better ball club even when we lost over there,” Marshall said. “We didn’t play just great, but a lot of that had to do with Tech’s defense.”

The Badgers dominated the opening minutes of the second quarter as Scott scored inside with a putback to give Beebe a 13-12 lead with 7:13 left to play in the first half. Schlenker then hit a three-point basket to boost the lead to four, and point guard Brandon Fuller got possession for the Badgers again when he took a charge from Heath Matheny. That led to another basket by Scott off an offensive rebound to give Beebe a 17-13 lead with 4:47 remaining in the first half.

But GCT senior standout Andrew Ferguson fought back with a steal and layup. He also drew a foul from Fuller on the play and converted the follow-up free throw to quickly cut Beebe’s lead down to 17-16 with 1:28 remaining in the half.

Matheny scored inside to give the lead back to the Eagles at 18-17 with 48 seconds remaining. Scott found his way to the line for Beebe with 33 seconds left to go in the half and made both ends, but Ferguson scored again just before the buzzer to give Tech a 20-19 lead at halftime.

Things became spirited in the second half as GCT coach Scott Bowlin received a warning from officials in the third quarter and was finally hit with a technical foul to start the fourth quarter.

The inside play between post players also reached a crescendo shortly after that when Scott came to blows with Tech’s Seth Dearing. Scott retaliated an elbow by Dearing with a jab that was caught by officials, and the discussion went on for several minutes before a double-technical foul was called.

The Eagles found a way to be productive during the tense period with a steal by Matheny that led to a putback by Ferguson to give the Eagles a 34-32 lead with 7:12 remaining. Dearing then scored inside to make it 36-32 with 5:51 left to play.

Fuller cut it to two and had a chance to convert a three-point play but missed the free throw to leave it at 36-34 Tech.

Ferguson and Scott then traded baskets before Nick Cothern made it 40-36 with two successful free throws with 3:32 remaining.

Fuller missed at the line again, but Scott was there for the rebound and basket to make it 40-38.

Ferguson added two more before Chapman went to the line and cut it back to two. Fuller stole the ball on the ensuing Tech possession and quickly got it to Chapman again, and Chapman drew another foul to earn a trip to the stripe with a chance to tie. He hit the front end but missed the back as Matheny pulled down the board for the Eagles.

Chapman added 11 points for the Badgers while Schlenker finished with eight points. Zach May and Fuller each had six points for Beebe while Ferguson led Greene County Tech with 19 points.

The Badgers hosted Forrest City last night and will play at Nettleton on Friday.

SPORTS >> Red Devils cruise past rival Lions

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville got a clean sweep of Searcy on Friday in White County. The Lady Red Devils stopped a two-game skid to win 64-52 while the boys had very little trouble in dispatching the Lions 64-22.

The Lady Red Devils had lost to No. 2 Parkview and No. 5 Hall in its previous two games, but bounced back on Friday. Jacksonville wasn’t able to duplicate the blowout win it got at home over the Lady Lions, but didn’t have much trouble away from its home gym.

Just as in the previous meeting, Jacksonville’s pressure gave Searcy fits and forced several turnovers. Unlike the last meeting, Jacksonville failed to convert the turnovers into points on several opportunities.

“That’s really the only thing I wasn’t pleased with,” Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms said. “We just didn’t finish like we’re capable of doing. We’d get the turnovers, but we’d walk or double dribble or miss a layup. The defense was good. We played defense pretty well, we just didn’t finish in transition like we need to.”

Still, Jacksonville (16-5, 6-4) was able to build an early lead that reached as much as 22 points in the third. Searcy (8-14, 3-7) got hot from outside in the fourth and hit four three pointers to pull the final margin back to a more respectable figure.

“They made a good run late but I never felt like we didn’t have control of the game,” Mimms said. “They played us closer than they did last time and some of that is to their credit. They shot the ball pretty well, especially late in the game. Overall it’s a good win. We just wanted to get a win after Hall and Parkview, so it’s a good win any way you look at it.”

Junior guard Jessica Jackson led Jacksonville with 20 points.

The boys game was over almost as soon as it started as Jacksonville bludgeoned the Lions 64-22. Searcy (6-17, 1-9)actually held an 8-6 lead early in the first quarter, but trailed 25-8 after one quarter and 44-11 at halftime. Jacksonville (18-4, 8-2) went on a 38-3 run that included six consecutive successful three-point shots.

“We shot the ball well and that was refreshing to see,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “They went to the zone and we shot it extremely well when they did that.”

Joyner got to play all his players considerable minutes, and was pleased to see no drop off in intensity, especially defensively.

“The first and second five really played with a lot of defensive intensity,” Joyner said. “They came out and really challenged them on the ball and off the ball. Everybody committed themselves defensively and that’s what we’re trying to get across, so that was good to see.”

Sophomore guard Sergio Berkley led Jacksonville with 10 points.

Jacksonville was on the road Tuesday against Jonesboro and stays on the road Friday at Marion.

SPORTS >> Panthers hammer Charging Wildcats

Leader sports editor

Spectators didn’t get the down-to-the-wire finish they expected when they arrived for the Lady Panthers’ revenge game against first-place North Little Rock, but they got a treat nonetheless. The Cabot ladies simply wore out the Charging Lady Wildcats on Friday at Panther Arena, winning 69-53, avenging an earlier five-point loss and moving into a first-place tie atop the 7A Central standings.

The Lady Panthers put together a solid team effort to get the win. They had 11 steals and 19 assists in the game. They turned the ball over just seven times, while forcing North Little Rock into 22 turnovers.

“I think our kids were in shape and focused and just came out and played really well,” Cabot coach Carla Crowder said. They played so well together. They work really well together as a team and are such good teammates.”

The first quarter was evenly played with Cabot pulling out to a 16-12 lead. The game bogged down into a defensive struggle in the second quarter. Cabot went nearly five minutes in the second quarter without a basket and just one free throw. North Little Rock only managed one basket in that time.

Finally, with 3:10 left in the half, Cabot’s Alexandra VanEnk got a basket off a Melissa Wolff steal and assist to give the Lady Panthers a 19-14 lead. Cabot went on a tear over the final three minutes, or rather senior forward Lacy Boyett did.

Boyett got three steals on three consecutive North Little Rock possessions and turned them into seven points. She scored five straight with layups and a free throw. After the third steal, she found Wolff streaking towards the basket for a layup.

“That was big,” Crowder said of Boyett’s defensive burst. “She played really well for us. She’s been playing well. She does a lot of stuff. She’s so aggressive and assertive, we really need her energy. She brings a lot of energy and really gets everybody going.”

North Little Rock called timeout and with 2:06 still left in the half, it was 26-14 and the state’s No. 1 ranked team would not get any closer than 10 the rest of the game.

North Little Rock scored out of the timeout, but Cabot point guard Jaylin Bridges hit a three pointer to make it 29-16. Wolff then knocked the ball loose at midcourt and to Bridges who was near the top of the NLR key. Bridges then threw a court-length pass that would’ve made Tom Brady envious, clearing two Wildcat defenders and landing in Wolff’s hands on the run for a no-dribble layup that made it 31-16 with 40 seconds remaining until halftime.

The second half consisted of North Little Rock making mini-runs only to see Cabot answer each time. The Lady Panthers stretched the lead to 39-22 early in the third quarter, but North Little Rock cut it to 41-28. Boyett scored off a Wolff steal and assist at the buzzer to make it 43-28 heading into the final frame.

The Lady Wildcats were poised to make a serious run at the start of the fourth quarter. They forced Cabot into three straight turnovers on its first three possessions while cutting the margin to 43-32. They were able to force Cabot’s first timeout on the fourth possession when they trapped Bridges in the corner near midcourt with 6:52 left in the game. Still Cabot couldn’t score and Sandy Mayed added a free-throw to make it 43-33 with 6:36 on the clock.

Cabot finally ended the run when Bridges nailed a three from the corner 18 seconds later. Post player Sydney Wacker’s first bucket of the game 18 seconds after that was also Cabot’s last bucket of the game. North Little Rock was forced to try to extend the game by fouling, and Cabot was rock solid from the line in the fourth quarter.

The Lady Panthers hit 11 of 12 free-throw attempts in the final frame to keep any potential comeback at bay.

North Little Rock’s Xena King led all scorers with 20 points. Mayes led all players with 11 rebounds. North Little Rock dominated the boards, winning the rebounding margin 33-16, but the 22 turnovers and poor shooting, 13 of 43 from the floor, counteracted the rebounding effort.

Wolff led Cabot with 18 points. She also had eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Boyett finished with 12 points, five steals and five assists. Bridges had 12 points and six assists and forward Elliot Taylor also finished with 12 points.

The Cabot boys suffered their worst loss of the season on Friday, losing 51-29 at home to North Little Rock. The same issue that has plagued Cabot all season, shooting, was haunting it again on Friday.

The Panthers (12-7, 3-7) made just 25 percent of its shots with 11 of 44 shooting from the floor. The shooting woes started early as Cabot went 2 of 11 in the first quarter and fell behind 14-4.

The Panthers never hit double figures in any given quarter. They scored seven in the second quarter and trailed 24-11 at halftime. They managed nine in each of the final two periods.

The scoring for Cabot was balanced as eight difference Panthers got on the board. Adam Rock led the way with six points.

Dashaun Watkins led North Little Rock (17-5, 8-2) with 17 points.

Russellville leads the league at 9-1, but will play in the class 6A state tournament. The Wildcats are second. Conway and Bryant are tied for third at 5-5. Catholic is 4-6 while Catholic, Van Buren and Central are all 3-7 in league play.

Cabot played at LR Central on Tuesday and will be back home against Bryant on Friday.

SPORTS >> Beebe, NP among 5A leaders

Leader sportswriter

Beebe and North Pulaski finished strong in the class 1A-5A state wrestling finals Saturday at the Jack Stephens Center on the UALR campus. The returning state champion Beebe Badgers were unable to repeat, but finished third overall with 260.0 points, 37.0 points behind winner Little Rock Christian.

North Pulaski finished sixth overall with 115.5 points, 37.5 points behind fifth place Gentry. The Falcons had four wrestlers in different weight classes, two made it all the way to the finals, one was crowned champion.

Nathan Sheward of North Pulaski pinned Beebe’s Al Sharp 1:28 into the final bout to claim the 126-pound championship. Both wrestlers are seniors and Sheward finished his season with a 20-5 record. Sharp finished with a respective 13-6 record for the year, and a runner-up medal.

Beebe had 11 wrestlers in different weight classes, two of which were crowned state champions. In the 160-pound final, Beebe’s Pearson Sloan capped off a great season by pinning Jack Wren of Little Rock Christian in 3:19. Sloan, a junior, finished the season with a 21-4 record.

Bradley Gann was the other state champion from Beebe, who won an 11-6 decision over David Miller of Des Arc to claim the 195-pound title. Gann, a senior, finished the season with a 20-1 record.

“We did a good job tonight. We had a bunch of young guys that really stepped up and did what we asked them to,” said Beebe coach David Payne about the overall performance of his group. “I have five wrestlers that have never wrestled before, and eight wrestlers that have never been in a state tournament.

“We have a really young team, and they hung in there with the teams that are really seasoned. I’m proud of them, proud of their effort, proud of their heart, proud of the way they worked.”

Four different Badgers finished third in their respective weight classes. Senior Ron Pacheco (21-5) pinned Eric Hern (10-9) of Little Rock Christian in 1:47 in the 152-pound division. Junior Jared Preseley (20-7) pinned Ben Thompson (11-8) of LRC in 1:52 in the 170-pound division.

In the 182-pound weight class, sophomore Alex Madesclaire (22-7) won a 16-8 decision over Jacob Priester of Maumelle, whose team finished second overall. At 220-pounds, sophomore Daniel Gann (8-2) took third due to injuries his opponent sustained earlier in the day.

Aaron Nunez of Beebe took fourth after losing a close 17-15 decision to Will Griffin of Episcopal Collegiate at 138-pounds. Micah Dubose pinned Dakota Caskey in 1:45 to take fifth at 106-pounds. Mathew Bain (113-pounds) and Jerry Mitchell (285-pounds) both took sixth place after losing by pinfall.

For North Pulaski, Nick Dunn took second place in the 145-pound division after losing an 8-0 decision to undefeated Nicholas Kurfess (13-0) of LRC. Nick Vandale pinned Berryville’s Kevin Maldonado in 3:11 to take third in the 113-pound division. Brien Davis finished sixth after being pinned by Mountain View’s Clay Gower 4:38 into the 152-pound bout.

SPORTS >> Panthers make strong showing

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers wrestling program has developed rapidly since it was established just a few years ago. After Saturday’s state finals concluded at UALR, Cabot’s program has continued to progress as the Panthers finished fifth overall in class 6A/7A, and left with a three-time state champion.

As a freshman, Tyler Kurz won the state championship in the 113-pound weight class. As a sophomore Kurz jumped up two weight classes to win another state title at 125-pounds. As a junior, and at 145-pounds, Kurz entered the tournament looking to win a third state title.

Kurz entered the finals with a 26-1 record on the season, and challenged fellow junior Isaac Smith (36-4) of Fort Smith Southside for the 145-pound title. The match was highly-competitive as it went all three rounds, but Kurz’s strong start helped him earn a 12-5 decision, and his third state championship.

It wasn’t just Kurz who was performing at a high level for the Panthers, as it took a team effort to earn a fifth overall ranking. Cabot had four other wrestlers competing for medals on Saturday and two who were wrestling for the championship in their respective weight classes.

“They did more than we’ve asked them to all year,” said Cabot coach Jason Rogers. “We had a goal set that we were going to score 200 points, and place fifth. We scored 232 points and placed fifth. So I think overall as a team we’ve had a very successful tournament.”

Cabot’s 232.0 points was 99.0 points behind Springdale Har-Ber’s 331.0. Har-Ber finished first in 6A/7A, and its point total bested both classifications. The two other wrestlers for Cabot who were going for a state title were Kyle Wheeler and Bryce Mitchell.

Wheeler challenged nationally ranked sophomore Tyler Mann of Little Rock Central for the 152-pound championship. These two met a about a week and a half ago in the 7A Central Conference tournament. In the conference tournament, Mann pinned Wheeler with less than one second to go in the first round for the win.

This time Mann (35-1) got the win even quicker, pinning Wheeler (22-4) in 1:37 to claim his second straight state championship. Mitchell (13-5) battled his way to the end against Bentonville’s Andy McDowell (40-5) for the 170-pound title, but McDowell won by a 10-4 decision.

At 285-pounds, sophomore Keith Pledger (20-4) pinned Chuks Ota (23-5) of Jonesboro in 1:10 to win the third place match. Panthers senior Chase Campbell (20-4) finished his wrestling career with a 9-4 decision over North Little Rock’s Khalil Campbell (15-5) to take fifth place in the 182-pound weight class.

When it was all over, Kurz (27-1) wasn’t done collecting the hardware as he became one of six wrestlers to be voted Most Outstanding Wrestler. An award voted on by the coaches.

“I’m very proud of our state champion,” Rogers said. “He won the Most Outstanding Wrestler in the 130 to 170 pound weight classes, and he’s the definition of a state champion.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

SPORTS >> Bears’ defense clips North Pulaski twice

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills made it an easy sweep of North Pulaski Tuesday night in Jacksonville. The Bears jumped out early and never let the hosting Falcons in the game en rout to a 59-29 victory. The girls game was a bit closer for a while, but the Lady Bears took control late for a 59-26 victory.

The Sylvan Hills (19-5, 10-0) boys played several defenses in the game and all were effective. The Bears gave up just 14 points in the first half and 15 in the second.

“It was one of our better defensive efforts of the season,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “We just allowed our defense to adjust. We ran multiple sets adjusting to what they were doing. We really turned them over quite a bit and we were able to do that from just about every set we got in. That’s where the effort shows up. What really made the whole thing work was the effort they were giving.”

Archie Goodwin led the Bears with 22 points while post player Devin Pearson added 10. Senior Jacob Gates came off the bench for eight rebounds.

“He’s our first or second man off the bench now depending on the matchups,” Davis said. “He’s really stepping up his game and that’s what we need about now. It’s that time of year where you really have to get honed in and get ready to make that stretch run. That’s what it was good to see, that kind of effort we had in this game.”

The Lady Falcons put up a better fight against the Lady Bears than they did in Sherwood a month ago. There was still too much athleticism and defensive pressure by Sylvan Hills for North Pulaski to hold out very long.

“They’re better,” Lady Bears coach Shelley Davis said. “It looks like they’ve added a few people to the roster. They’re bigger than they were last time, a lot taller and they played better this time. The first half was a little closer than I’d like it to be, but our pressure really started getting to them.”

Sylvan Hills led 28-14 at halftime before blowing the game open with a run that stretched from the late stages of the third quarter into the first few minutes of the fourth.

“The pressure was the main thing,” Davis said. “We caused them to turn it over. We forced them to hurry and play faster than they like to. They walked a lot. And we were able to capitalize and got some layups.”

Senior guard Kashima Wright led Sylvan Hills (8-13, 6-4) with 12 points. Jamedal Byrd-Hudson added nine.

Sylvan Hills also got some production from three freshmen that Davis moved up after the Metro Conference season ended.

“I don’t know that they’re quite ready for those quality teams like the ones we’ll see in the state tournament,” Davis said. “Practicing against better competition every day will make you better. That’s my purpose in bringing them up here and hopefully that’ll be the outcome we get.” Sylvan Hills finally closed a seven-game road stretch last night at White Hall after The Leader deadlines. On Tuesday, the Bears and Lady Bears will play their first home games since Jan. 17 against Watson Chapel.